Nick Wetzel, Sports Editor
|The Hornets had a good season last year and an unexpected seven game battle with the Heat in the playoffs, mainly due to Kemba Walker’s offensive explosion. Walker had his best season as a pro, and gambles on Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin paid off exceptionally well. Lin is now gone, but the Hornets did get one of their best players back as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned from a torn labrum. The combination of Batum and MKG at the two and three positions looks very promising, and the Hornets could slot into the fifth or sixth spot in the East if Cody Zeller or Frank Kaminsky can prove as viable replacements to Al Jefferson.
|The Wizards would love nothing more than to have the talk about their two All-Star caliber guards, John Wall and Bradley Beal, be about their play on the court rather than their relationship off it. But that’s the reality that they face. On paper, the Wizards have a solid team that could grab the fifth or sixth spot in playoffs. Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, and Marcin Gortat are a solid group of starters and they have a good mix of veterans and youth on the bench. Unfortunately, their chances rely on Morris’ ability to perform at the level he played at before the dumpster fire that occurred last season, and Wall and Beal’s ability to not only play together, but also just to stay on the court in general.
|The Hawks’ magical run a few seasons ago seems like a distant memory. Franchise constants Jeff Teague and Al Horford are no longer with the team and the long-awaited homecoming of Dwight Howard has finally taken place. Trading Teague showed that the Hawks are serious about giving Dennis Schroder the starting point guard spot for at least this season. He has made flashes in his first three seasons in the league, but hasn’t done enough to completely convince everyone that he can be the guy to lead a team. The Hawks are right in there with three or four other teams who will fight for the last couple of playoff spots.
|The Heat had a rough offseason, losing the remaining two members of the “Big Three” with Dwayne Wade leaving in free agency and Chris Bosh still not being medically cleared by Heat doctors. They were able to resign a few of their young stars however, with Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson returning. The Heat have a decent enough starting rotation, led by Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, and Whiteside, plus 2015 second round pick Josh Richardson who impressed last season. They have a chance to fight for a seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs, but their days as Eastern Conference juggernauts are long gone.
|The Magic grabbed a number of headlines this offseason, hiring Frank Vogel as head coach, trading former lottery pick Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka, and signing Evan Fournier to a five-year, 85-million-dollar deal. They also signed former Toronto Raptor Bismack Biyombo to be a defensive and rebounding specialist off of the bench, so they should have a pretty decent frontcourt rotation with Ibaka, Biyombo, and Nikola Vucevic. This season will mainly be about improving the shooting of some of their younger players, such as Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon.